The EU Referendum date hasn’t even been set, but rival groups on the either side of the argument are already emerging.
Today, an organisation branded as ‘Vote Leave’ was officially unveiled, comprising Labour, Tory and Ukip MPs, as well as some heavy financial backers.
Last month, Ukip leader Nigel Farage announced his party would joining with the ‘Leave.EU’ campaign, an organisation founded and funded by party backer Arron Banks.
It might sound like a Monty Python sketch (“Judean People's Front! We're the People's Front of Judea!”), but the groups will both be vying for the official designation from the Electoral Commission as the lead ‘leave’ campaign group.
As the lead group, they would be entitled to a free mailing to every voter or household, subject to a maximum spending limit of £7million and would no doubt be given access to broadcast slots.
The Vote Leave campaign has a wider range of supporters, and can point to backers from three political parties. However, Leave.eu can call upon Ukip’s self-styled ‘People’s Army’ to get the message out beyond Westminster.
What both groups are missing is someone who can reach across the political divide, or even sit above it, and convince the millions the Leave side needs to vote to exit the EU.
Whichever group can find that figure will have the best chance of leading the UK out of the European Union.
Who’s who in the Leave campaign:
Hardly a household name, but in true Troy McClure style you may remember him from such group’s as The TaxPayer’s Alliance (co-founder) and NOtoAV in the 2011 electoral system referendum (Campaign Director). He is currently Chief Executive of Business For Britain – a eurosceptic group which thinks Brussels needs to loosen up on all the regulations hitting UK firms. Outside of Westminster, no one knows him, but inside of the bubble, he is seen as a big player.
John Mills, Stuart Wheeler and Peter Cruddas
These three are providing the war chest for Vote Leave, and come from across the political spectrum. John Mills is Labour’s largest individual donor, and made his money through consumer products company JML. He reckons that one in three British households owns one of his company’s ironing board products. Stuart Wheeler made the largest single donation to a political party in history in 2001, when he gave the Tories £5million. He switched his allegiance – and chequebook – to Ukip in 2009, handing over £100,000 for that year’s European Elections. He has fallen out of love with the party in recent months, as one of the few leading figures to publically say Nigel Farage should have stayed ‘resigned’ as leader after the General Election. Peter Cruddas is a Tory donor worth an estimates £1.5billion. He made his fortune through trading in the City of London.
Tory MPs: Steve Baker, Bernard Jenkin, Owen Paterson
Steve Baker is one of the new generation of Tory eurosceptics, elected to the Commons in 2010. He is the co-chairman of Conservatives For Britain, a group inside parliament coordinating Eurosceptic activity on the Government benches. Bernard Jenkin is one of the old guard who defied then Prime Minister John Major to vote against the Maastrich Treaty in the early 90s (the treaty created the modern day European Union and set the wheels in motion for the euro). Former Cabinet Minister Owen Paterson has made no secret of his eurosceptism, and seems to be enjoying his role as a senior backbencher since being sacked as Environment Secretary by David Cameron in July 2014
Labour MPs: Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Graham Stringer
In a different world, the names of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell may have appeared on this list, but their previous eurosceptism seems to have been diluted somewhat since taking over the Labour leadership.
Kate Hoey has been one of the leading Labour eurosceptics since her election to the Commons in 1989. Likewise, Kelvin Hopkins, who at the TUC conference in Brighton last month was sure that Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn was operating without permission when he said Labour would campaign to stay in the EU. He wasn’t, and Mr Corbyn later confirmed that was the party’s position.
Ukip MP, Douglas Carswell
Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s only MP, has retained the independent streak he developed while serving as a Tory for nine years. While his party leader is backing Leave.EU (see below), Mr Carswell has thrown his weight behind Vote Leave. When Mr Farage was asked about his party being “at war” with Mr Carswell over the different EU leave groups, the Ukip leader replied: “So what?”
The Bristol-based businessman seems to be enjoying his time in politics. A year-ago he gave £1million to Ukip – up from an initial figure of £100,000 after William Hague said he had never heard of the former Tory donor. Mr Banks was down in South Thanet on election night to watch Mr Farage fail to win a seat in the House of Commons. He put together Leave.Eu this summer, and its Facebook page has more than 160,000 likes. He certainly has no great love for Douglas Carswell, branding him "borderline autistic with mental illness wrapped in" at last month's Ukip conference.
Without a doubt the country’s most famous, or infamous, Eurosceptic, the Ukip leader has been waiting his whole political life for this moment. Nigel Farage announced his party would be getting behind the Leave.EU campaign. Mr Farage is attracted by the group as he believes it reaches out beyond Westminster. Ukip has a genuine army of foot soldiers who will be able to deliver leaflets, put up posters and try to win the referendum on the ground.
Named after Margaret Thatcher’s infamous 1988 speech in Belgium in which she decried “a European super-state”, this group has been nurturing the candle of eurosceptism for years. If you go along to one of their meetings in Westminster, you will see a mix of Ukip and Tory voters, although some Labour MPs such as Kate Hoey do appear. It is run by former Tory MP Barry Legg, one of the original Maastricht rebels.